The wonderful images the New Horizon spacecraft has been beaming back from Pluto are both a cause for celebration, and perhaps a reason for a moment of bittersweet reflection. We are seeing something no human eyes have ever seen before, a magnificent achievement. At the same time, this may mark the last time for a while that we have this opportunity. As Dennis Overbye, writing in the New York Times explains:
But the inventory of major planets — whether you count Pluto as one of those or not — is about to be done. None of us alive today will see a new planet up close for the first time again. In some sense, this is, as Alan Stern, the leader of the New Horizons mission, says, “the last picture show…”
You could say that we have reached the sea, the very icy and black sea between us and the stars. Whether we will ever cross that sea nobody can say.
The good news is that New Horizon will continue to send back data over the course of the next year, so plenty of new discoveries remain. In the meantime, we should celebrate, and in the video below, Stephen Colbert does just that, taking Neil deGrasse Tyson to task for his drive-by execution of Pluto.